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Who should be screened and discharged?

[ 2010-01-13 09:40]     字号 [] [] []  
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Last week, a media report on the miserable state of laid-off "substitute teachers" triggered online debates over the government's plan to qingtui - screen and discharge - teachers not on its regular payroll. While some argue in defense of the government, the better half of the online critics accuse the education authorities of "killing the donkey after the milling job" - a Chinese proverb meaning getting rid of somebody after he has outlived his usefulness.

I will not concentrate on whether the Ministry of Education's decision to qingtui substitute teachers is reasonable or not. Theoretically speaking, replacing substitute teachers with relatively low qualifications with more qualified ones is commendable. The outcome, however, has been a far cry from what the authorities had hoped.

The ministry announced in March 2006 that steps would be taken to qingtui the country's 448,000 substitute teachers "in the shortest possible period of time". Nearly four years have passed since then, but 310,000 of them are still working in primary and middle schools, and the plan does not look like being accomplished any time soon. In fact, last Wednesday a ministry spokeswoman ruled out setting any deadline for the qingtui plan.

These facts are the best proof that substitute teachers are still indispensable in the country's elementary education sector.

My question is: Why don't the authorities officially acknowledge such teachers' role and give them some kind of status? The least they deserve is remuneration in accordance with their contribution.

A substitute teacher's pay is far less than an "official" teacher's. In Weiyuan county, Shaanxi province, the place where the media report focused last week, a substitute teacher earns a paltry 80 yuan ($12) a month while an official one makes 1,300 yuan ($191). In Qichun county, Hubei province, where I once worked as a teacher, it is 420 yuan for substitute teachers and 1,700 yuan for regular ones. Though the difference varies in different places, it is shockingly sharp.

The long practice of employing substitute teachers attests the dearth of regular teachers at the elementary level. So apart from the substitute teachers identified as ineligible to continue on their job, the others should be recognized as regular teachers. They have been used rigorously to meet the goal of 9-year compulsory education for children, but treated shabbily. This is extremely unfair. To correct this wrong, the government should give them a considerable salary raise.

Writing on the same subject three years ago, I had made a calculation to show that raising the substitute teachers' pay would not constitute a heavy burden on the government.

Suppose the monthly pay of a substitute teacher is 250 yuan on average across the country, and suppose one-third of the 310,000 substitute teachers are not eligible to teach after the "screenings" and each of the remaining gets a pay rise to 1,000 yuan a month, the annual increase in the State budget would be only 1.86 billion yuan. Is this huge?

Consider this. A journal published by the Central Party School said in 2006 that the public money spent on official banquets and government vehicles in the country was 600 billion yuan a year.

Of course, the reasoning sounds a bit unpractical, because local governments, as opposed to provincial or central, have to pay the substitute teachers' salaries. There is, however, something they can do: streamline their administrative structures and save the money to increase the allocation on education.

It has come to light in recent years that local government departments are heavily overstaffed. It is not uncommon to see a county government with more than 10 deputy mayors and numerous offices, set up under various names to employ leaders' relatives. In some offices, the senior members even outnumber the ordinary staff. Doing little but being paid handsomely is quite common in many government organizations.

Probably, it is more necessary to qingtui such redundant staff than to qingtui the substitute teachers.

E-mail: liushinan@chinadaily.com.cn

About the author:

刘式南 高级编辑。1968年毕业于武汉华中师范学院(现华中师范大学)英文系。1982年毕业于北京体育学院(现北京体育大学)研究生院体育情报专业。1982年进入中国日报社,先后担任体育记者、时政记者、国际新闻编辑、要闻版责任编辑、发稿部主任、《上海英文星报》总编辑、《中国商业周刊》总编辑等职。现任《中国日报》总编辑助理及专栏作家。1997年获国务院“特殊贡献专家政府津贴”。2000年被中华全国新闻工作者协会授予“全国百佳新闻工作者”称号。2006年获中国新闻奖二等奖(编辑)。


Young people deserve more understanding

Workers must be paid more than lip service

Tilt the profit balance in farmers' favor

Commentators, please pardon the universities

(作者刘式南 中国日报网英语点津 编辑陈丹妮)